I don’t hate the Michigan State Spartans. Never have. Never will.
Why is this newsworthy? Because, after spending four unforgettable years at the University of Michigan, one thing every student learns is that a healthy disdain for that school in East Lansing is a must. It is a rite of passage of sorts. An unwavering abhorrence toward MSU in many ways is as much a prerequisite to graduation as math or English.
And yet, I find myself rooting for MSU regularly throughout the football and basketball seasons. Saying this publicly is not only sacrilegious, but it’s destined to earn me numerous side-eyes next time I show up to homecoming.
At least three times a year, being a fan of both schools should present some sort of internal struggle. This Saturday, however, when U of M travels to East Lansing, I won’t be at all conflicted. I will be wearing my maize and blue, cheering and screaming on my beloved Wolverines hours before attending the wedding of one of my best friends, also a Michigan alumnus. This choice was not always easy.
Growing up only 15 minutes away from the University of Michigan, supporting U of M was the only option. My mother and grandfather both were Wolverine supporters and would routinely take my older brother and me to basketball games and the occasional football game. Watching the Fab 5 was exhilarating until the infamous timeout, while the football program had a history of winning under Bo Schembechler, which continued under Gary Moeller.
Interestingly, as I started to reach my teenage years, I experienced an interesting turn of events. Although I was a high school summer intern at the University of Michigan Medical School, I attended camps at MSU. Michigan State began to start a black man as its quarterback, and it changed my life. I definitely cannot recall the first time I remember watching a black man play quarterback in college football, but I distinctly remember cheering for Tony Banks. He felt like a taller, stronger, faster and lighter-skinned version of me.
Then, Plaxico Burress arrived. During the time of watching Randy Moss catch a pass over every 5’10” cornerback, getting the opportunity to witness the 6’5” Burress dominate Big 10 opposition was a thing of beauty.
While the U of M basketball team started to struggle in the later part of the 1990s, MSU reloaded with the Flintstones. Charlie Bell became my favorite collegiate player, and Morris Peterson and Mateen Cleaves weren’t far behind.
By my junior year of high school, I was a full-fledged Spartan fan.
Oftentimes, friends at U of M who knew of my traitorous habits would ask, “If you liked MSU so much, why didn’t you go there for school?” For one, I was not about to base my entire educational future on which school had the better basketball program — not unless that school was giving me a scholarship, which wasn’t happening for a 6’0” small forward who played zero years of high school ball.
In addition, U of M is routinely ranked as one of the top 30 institutions in the country and top five public schools, it was located down the street, and my older brother was also a student. It just made practical and educational sense. Even after I stepped foot on campus, I still had love for my Spartans.
I had to learn how to actively mitigate the feelings for the Spartans given my new affiliation as a Wolverine. It took a few months for me to fully inundate myself as a U of M fan, but the culture at that school is infectious and the transformation occurred.
I had the opportunity to attend State for graduate school for virtually free or pay another 20K per year to attend U of M. I chose MSU, and my support for Michigan grew exponentially because everyone in East Lansing criticized my Wolverine-dom and forced me to defend my home turf. It also actually rekindled my regard for the Spartans being so close to a sports legacy that I cherished during my formidable years. It was then I decided that, while not the most acceptable choice, being a fan of both schools was my destiny. I would always root for U of M under any circumstance. And I would always root for MSU anytime the Spartans were not playing Michigan.
That continues to be the code by which I live.
Thus, this Saturday when the University of Michigan travels to Michigan State University to exact some revenge after possibly the most heartbreaking loss in the history of college football — a muffed-blocked-punt-recovery-return-touchdown with zero seconds left on the clock — I will be wearing my block M, cheering as if I was sitting in the student section at the Big House.
A piece of me, however, will always be unapologetically rooting for that other school.
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